Anthony Marshall and the attorney he conspired with, Francis Morrissey, each received jail sentences earlier this week for 1 to 3 years. They had been convicted of looting Brooke Astor, Marshall's mother, out of $60 million by convincing her to change her will when she was mentally unable to comprehend it due to Alzheimer's disease, along with related crimes.
Marshall's attorneys had pled for leniency, citing his advanced age, poor health and doctors' reports saying any jail time would equate to a death sentence for him. The Probate Lawyer Blog covered the defense lawyer's efforts in this recent article.
The judge wouldn't hear of it. He noted how sad it was that a life of extreme abundance led to such sadness, particularly when Marshall's own son took the stand and "tried very, very hard to destroy" Marshall.
The judge did consider that Mrs. Astor loved her son, the judge felt, along with other mitigating factors, so he did not impose the 4 1/2 years that the prosecutors requested. In fact, the judge said he actually preferred a different sentence. He wished he could cause Marshall's many millions to be donated to charity and leave Marshall in the hands of his wife (for whom he committed the crimes, the judge said) to care for him -- without his money.
But, where the Astor millions will ultimately end up is still an open question. The estate must be sorted out in the battle in Surrogate's Court (New York's version of probate court). We'll have to stay tuned to see how much money Marshall is allowed to keep.
Regardless of that battle, the fact that he has been sentenced to jail -- in spite of his age and health woes -- marks an important victory in the battle against elder abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that between one and five million elderly Americans have been the victim of financial exploitation each and every year. Exact figures are hard to track because so many instances of abuse go unreported.
That's why high profile cases like this one are important. People who prey on the elderly and seek what seems like an unguarded pot of gold need to understand that they can be punished. If Marshall had avoided jail time, then it wouldn't have sent a strong message to the other would-be abusers out there.
Of course, at this stage, whether Marshall will actually spend any time in jail is very much in doubt. The jail sentence isn't scheduled to start until January 19th. This gives Marshall and his attorneys enough time to file an appeal and seek a "stay" of the sentence, which would keep him out of jail during the appeal. The appellate process is long, often taking several years. Marshall may not be alive by the time it ends, meaning he may never see any time behind bars.
But, the sentence alone is noteworthy and hopeful will send a message that is badly needed.
Do you suspect that an elderly family member or friend has been a victim of financial fraud or abuse? Here are the National Center on Elder Abuse's warning signs to watch out for.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+